Thursday, October 27, 2016

izzit, 2081 and the Meaning of Equality from Rachel Colsman

One teacher’s Story of How an izzit.org DVD Changed the Life of a Struggling Student


Irving Kristol once said, “Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions – it only guarantees equality of opportunity.”

This concept has always been a challenge to teach in my government classes.  This past year was no exception.  I teach in northwestern New Mexico, in a district that serves the Navajo Reservation.  My particular school is over 80 percent Navajo.  Their history makes it hard for many students to understand individual rights when, for many years, their rights had been ignored.  

My classes had just finished studying the Bill of Rights. We read the document, broke it down into terminology, and looked at Supreme Court cases.  They were still struggling with the idea of equality. I had to find a way to teach them that equality does not mean everyone should earn the same amount, or live in the same size house.  Enter izzit.org.


I have used izzit.org for a couple of years for a variety of topics.  I just happened to order the video “2081.” It was sitting on my desk waiting to be watched.  I took the video home to preview.  My first reaction was awe… followed very closely by apprehension.  There were guns. The production was dark. It was filled with powerful symbolism.  I knew that it would be a major risk to show it, but I felt that the benefits of using it would outweigh the risks.  

I went to my principal for guidance. He told me to go for it. So I did. I could not have anticipated the results.  


I had one particular student that was struggling to finish his senior year. He rarely came to class. He seemed disconnected. I thought we were going to lose him. But after I got hold of the 2081 DVD, I asked him please to come to class the next day, as I had a great lesson on equality, and would really like him be there. He looked skeptical. But to my surprise, he actually showed up.


I began class by writing “equality” up on the board.  I asked each student to write down their definition of the word.  We had a brief class discussion and developed a class definition of “equality,” and wrote it on the board.  I handed out the video questions and began the movie.  The students were giggling and whispering through the introduction, but when the movie started, things got dead silent.  

The students were mesmerized.  At the conclusion, you could hear a pin drop. I asked the students to revisit their definition of equality for homework, and to bring it in for class discussion the following day.  I could have never predicted the response. Students had been discussing the idea of “equality of outcome,” versus “equality of opportunity” with other teachers, in the lunchroom, and at home.  The next day, every student was in their seat ready for discussion before the tardy bell had even rung – including our struggling young man. The classroom was abuzz with ideas and meaningful exchange.


After class, the young man who’d been missing class came up and asked if he could borrow “2081” to show his parents. I allowed him to take it, and the revolving door of checking out the video began. Over 50 students took “2081” home to share. Parent-teacher conferences four weeks later revolved a lot around my lesson on equality.  


Helping students understand the difference of equality of outcome, versus equality of opportunity has always been a challenge.  Many of my students believed that government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has exactly the same things. But this lesson helped them understand the fundamental principle of a democratic republic: equality before the law. 

My young man continued to come to class, rarely missing a day.  I asked him what made him want to come. He informed me that the video and the lesson really touched him. He realized that hating the system would do nothing to fix his problems: “Democracy doesn’t mean that everyone ends up the same.  It means that everyone can make choices, and whether they succeed or fail is up to them.  It might not be fair, but at least we each have ownership of our individual journey in life.” 



(Note from izzit.org - Please be advised that 2081 is not streaming on our site but you are able to select it as your free DVD for the year! It's a powerful video, and we highly recommend it for high school students.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Stay out of the lunch room! by Mike Siekkinen

When I first became a teacher, I was lucky enough to have several great mentors who helped me along the way and made a huge positive impact on me. Although most people are willing to give advice, you do not always receive “good” advice.

I thought I might pass on one of the best things that was told to me my first year teaching: “stay out of the lunch room.”

One of my mentors was a wonderful teacher named Bonnie London. Bonnie passed away a few years ago and I know would appreciate being remembered this way. Bonnie was one of my college professors who had previously been a classroom teacher and an administrator. Having her for several classes as a student, she pulled me aside one day for a little one-on-one chat, as hers was my last class and I had just been hired to be a teacher during the next school year. She told me to make her one promise for my first year of teaching: to not eat lunch in the lunch room with the other teachers. 

When I asked her why as this sounded like an odd promise to ask of me, she explained that there are teachers who complain a lot. When I said I understand that there are always “complainers” and I thought I could handle that, she said, “It’s more than just complaining.”

She explained that there is a lot of negativity and general bad talk that occurs between teachers and it is easy to fall into that mindset. She said stay away from it all, especially your first year, as it’s hard enough surviving your first year without falling onto the gossip, trash talk and bad attitudes from a few teachers. I promised her I would do this and kept that promise my first year teaching. When I saw her next she asked me if I was, in fact, keeping my promise. I have done this now every year, having just completed my 14th year teaching. I open my classroom as a safe haven for students during lunch instead of going to the lunch room and sitting with the other teachers. For the students who need to get away from the noise or who are just having a bad day, they know they can come to Dr. Siekkinen’s room and that that is OK. I typically have a dozen students each day eating in my room.  I know this has made a difference in who I have become as a teacher and I pass this same advice on to other new teachers.

Negativity breeds negativity. How do you manage to keep a positive attitude?


Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Jumping to Conclusions by Andy Jobson

We live in an age dominated by sound bites and hashtags—simplistic thinking and immediate gratification. I like some parts of it, like being able to call up the next episode of a favorite TV show without having to wait for another week (or, in the case of shows I like, never having access to these obsolete shows), but I am deeply concerned about the trend.

This became more evident to me over the summer as I watched the responses to the news cycle, specifically to the deaths of two black men from police shootings in the course of just a few days. Both are undoubtedly tragedies, but in both cases, as with previous shootings, people rushed to judge the situation before having all the facts.  Without getting political, I want to encourage teachers to remember just how important it is to teach the process of gathering evidence, of considering alternative scenarios, and of waiting instead of “rushing to judgment” for something we hear about on social media or a news update.


I fear that many teachers are not emphasizing this important skill.  At the NEA Conference in July, I was helping izzit.org provide free DVDs.  Many teachers were quite excited to realize that the resources were indeed free to them (thanks to generous donors!), but I remember one who was looking at the “Raise the Wage” DVD.  I noted that the program tried to be as even-handed as possible but did indicate that maybe raising the wage was not such a great idea. 


Upon hearing this, she immediately huffed that that was a ridiculous idea, that she believed firmly in raising the minimum wage.  When I gently suggested that perhaps her students would benefit from hearing both sides, as she obviously felt strongly about the issue, she left pretty abruptly.  It’s a good reminder to me to be willing to listen to both sides and to encourage my students to do the same. This doesn’t mean I can’t determine who has the better answer, but I need to model the process of inquiry instead of immediacy.  Perhaps you will benefit from the reminder as well.

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also  been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Use izzit! by Mike Siekkinen

To start off, I am not an employee of izzit. I am a public school teacher who happens to be a big fan of izzit products. Being this is a blog on the izzit site; I cannot assume that everyone who reads this knows about izzit products, so thought I would do a shout out about the awesome stuff that is here on this site for you, free of charge. 

First of all, my favorite - the videos! Although I have my favorites (namely 2081 and Pennies a Day), they are all high quality products and you cannot beat the price! The video 2081 is the only video I have shown in 14 years of teaching that I have had students ask to borrow and take home to watch again with their parents. All I can say is WOW! 

I have used about 2/3 of the titles offered to supplement instruction in my classroom. Included with each video is a lesson plan which can be very helpful when including these in your plans. I tend to like hard copies of the DVD. This is mainly because they can be used without the internet and I can also have these available for a substitute who cannot log into a computer. Most titles are also streaming (with a few exceptions). If you are new to izzit and like the products, I encourage you to tell other teachers. And tell izzit as well. These great resources, while free to us, do cost the wonderful funders who make it possible. So your feedback lets them know that their investment in education is appreciated and well used.

What’s your favorite izzit video?


Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.


Monday, October 10, 2016

izzit: Educational Treasure Found by Ed Tooley

FREE! That word caught my attention as I perused my list of e-mails. Teachers receive numerous educational advertisements over the internet daily. Most products are unattainable because of the cost. At the school where I teach, there happened to be a “freeze” on all purchases because of budget issues. But this advertisement said, “Free.” We could afford free.
I was suspicious and skeptical. But the name izzit also had a curious ring to it. I had to know what it was all about.


I am so thankful that I made the effort some years ago to investigate this free offer. I have been able to show a number of izzit.org videos over the years. The response is always positive. The videos are short in length, but deep in substance. The content  makes students and teachers think, discuss, analyze and pursue educational issues that are meaningful and weighty.

In graduate school, educators are taught, or should I say ingrained with, an effective thinking strategy called Bloom’s Taxonomy. The purpose of this strategy is to help teachers lead students into higher-level thinking activities. The taxonomy has six levels. The lowest level begins with basic knowledge, and then each level proceeds to higher-level thinking skills, such as analysis and evaluation. The izzit.org products track with this method very well. 

The videos make students think about serious and important subject matter, like property rights, markets and entrepreneurship. As an educator, I search high and low for materials and activities that are both interesting and substantive. The products izzit.org creates hit the mark on both counts. They're student-friendly, which captures their attention. The subject matter encompasses a topic that make students analyze and defend their positions, rather than just recalling information by rote. The videos come with supplemental materials that will put a smile on any teacher’s face. (We save so much valuable time.)
         
I have used the izzit.org products mainly with my seventh grade social studies classes. It amazes me to observe, first-hand, the quality of ideas and solutions that come from these young people, as they confronted such important issues.
            
Allow me to share a quick story: Not long after I received my first izzit.org DVD, I shared my enthusiasm of the quality of the product with the economics teacher. She showed her senior economics class the DVD I recommended, and a magical moment occurred. After viewing the DVD, a senior economics student went out of her way to inform me just how much she enjoyed the video. She went on and on about how much her class enjoyed both the content, and the quality of the program.
            
One more story:  At a teachers’ conference, I was a seminar
speaker. I had the opportunity to share the izzit.org products with those in attendance. After a few minutes of sharing, a fellow teacher commented about the cost of the products. "What is it?” she asked.

I replied, “How did you know the name of the company?” I also explained the mind-blowing concept of FREE resources for educators.


Are you looking for great resources to use with your students? Well…look no further…this izzit!






Thursday, October 6, 2016

High School Reunions by Andy Jobson

I reached a milestone this year—30 years since high school!  And for the first time, I decided to take the time and trouble to travel back home to Slidell, Louisiana, to see some members of my graduating class.  I suspected that most of my closest friends wouldn’t be there, and I was right, but it was still relatively enjoyable.  I did decide, however, that while some things have certainly changed, other things never will.

Our first event was in a bar on a Friday evening for a ‘meet and greet.’  The good news was, it was well attended. The bad news was, it was well attended—the crush of people made conversations rather difficult, and southern Louisiana in June is hot, even after dark.  Of course, in our senior year, many people spent many Friday nights drinking somewhere (although I was not one of those people), so it was déjà vu all over again.  On Saturday night, we met at a nice establishment for a buffet dinner, but conversation was again limited due to extremely loud music.  Again, it reminded me of the high school dances I attended.  The photographer hired for the event made sure he got pictures of the football players, the cheerleaders, and the dance team.  For some reason, chorus, drama club, literary magazine, academic rally participants, National Honor Society—in fact, everything I did in high school—was deemed unimportant by this photographer.  Some things never change.

I did enjoy learning the occupations that various members of the class had pursued, and it’s interesting to see the surprises of people who rose far above what their high school record suggested. I’ll admit, one reason I hesitated to go back was that I worried a little about comparisons, just as we all did in high school.  I expect, since I graduated at the top of my class, most people thought I was among the more likely people in my class to become highly successful—which of course is a term that can be very difficult to define.  I think I am highly successful, as I am happily married, I enjoy my work, and I have a significant impact on dozens of students each year.  When I told people that I was a teacher, however, I generally got a reaction like “That’s great!”  or “I could never do that!” but then they didn’t really seem interested in hearing more.  I probably should have hunted down other teachers in the group to swap war stories.

I wish I had had more time to visit with classmates, and I wish more had been there to visit.  The experience did remind me, though, that our students will surprise us.  As a result, we need to make sure we’re investing in all of our students, not just those who seem “most likely to succeed.”  

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also  been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.